The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine reached a new pandemic high on Friday, with some health officials wondering how much worse it could get as winter approaches.
According to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people hospitalized has risen to 248, overshadowing the pandemic peak of 235 on Sept. 25. Of those currently hospitalized, 72 are in critical care and 31 are on a ventilator. .
Before September, there had been no more than 200 hospitalizations since January. Now the number has not fallen below 200 in 21 consecutive days.
“Our people are fried. They’re burned out,” said Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association. “A nurse friend recently told me that what used to be a bad day is now every day.”
New cases were not updated on Friday because Thursday was a federal and state holiday, but recent trends suggest that things could worsen with the holiday season approaching and more people gathering indoors. As of Thursday, Maine’s seven-day daily average stood at 553 cases, up from 462 cases two weeks earlier and 368 cases a month ago.
“The Maine CDC expects cases to remain high,” said agency director Dr. Nirav Shah, this week. “How long they stay high is essentially up to all of us.”
Since the pandemic hit Maine nearly 19 months ago, there have been 110,346 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 1,220 deaths, according to CDC data. Despite the recent rise, both stats remain among the lowest per capita of any state.
In the United States, cases started to rise again after falling steadily since mid-September. According to the US CDC, the seven-day average is about 74,500, compared to about 72,000 two weeks ago.
Hospital admissions across the country are still on a declining trend, averaging just under 40,000, compared to more than 60,000 a month ago, but some states, including Maine, have yet to see their numbers decline.
Michaud said he is concerned about how much worse it could get. Last year, hospitals braced for a holiday wave, and it came, but that was at a time when universal masks and other safety precautions were rife.
“We could really enjoy it this winter,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges, Michaud said, will be effectively treating patients for injuries or illnesses unrelated to the pandemic. In addition to admitting new patients, hospitals are struggling to discharge other patients to nursing homes or other facilities due to staff shortages.
“I keep saying, somewhat lightheartedly, you better hope you don’t need a hip replacement because you won’t get it for a while,” he said.
Several hospitals hit record levels of admitted COVID-19 patients this week, including Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, MaineGeneral in Augusta and Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth.
At MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center and eight other hospitals, 78 people were hospitalized Friday, what spokesman John Porter called “a big number for us.” Of these, 30 are in intensive care (22 unvaccinated) and 12 on a ventilator (11 unvaccinated).
dr. Dora Anne Mills, Chief Health Improvement Officer at MaineHealth, agreed it’s especially troubling because experts don’t necessarily know what things could look like in the coming weeks.
“Influenza has been around for hundreds of years and we still can’t always predict it. With COVID, we can predict it even less,” she said. “I cannot emphasize enough to the public what a very challenging situation we are in.”
Vaccinations, meanwhile, are continuing at a steady pace, including among the 5 to 11-year-olds, who are now eligible. The daily number of vaccine doses has doubled in the past month, and the state has now administered a total of 948,602 vaccines, representing 70.6 percent of all Mainers. In less than a week, 6,774 elementary-age children received their first dose of vaccine, 58 percent of whom were from Cumberland and York counties.
While Maine’s overall vaccination rate is among the best of all states — the top five states for vaccinations are all in New England — it isn’t uniform across all counties, and that disparity has been driving transmission lately, it said. Shah this week. Many rural parts of the state have barely reached 60 percent vaccination rates, meaning large groups of people are unvaccinated, allowing the virus to spread. Statewide, there are still nearly 400,000 people who have not yet been fully vaccinated.
According to CDC data, the past 28 days had the lowest rate of virus transmission in Cumberland County, which has the highest vaccination coverage. In comparison, the two counties with the highest transmission rates at the time — Somerset and Franklin — have the second and third lowest vaccination rates, respectively.
Shah said he understands that people may be confused and discouraged by the recent wave in Maine, but he reiterated that vaccines are the best way out of the pandemic, and once again encouraged anyone who has yet to get vaccinated to consider this. .
“None of this is to undermine or undermine the fact that the vaccines and vaccinations continue to work,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, your risk of getting seriously ill from COVID or ending up in a hospital or dying remains low.”
This story is being updated.
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